Two U.S. soldiers bring their case to Concordia: 'Not against war, but against this war'; Deserters cross country, seek refugee status, Canadians' support for their growing numbers
(By Ann Carroll, originally published in The Gazette (Montreal), January 17 2006)
One year ago, U.S. soldiers Darrell Anderson and Patrick Hart fled to Canada rather than face deployment to Iraq.
Now, the pair are engaged in a much different tour of duty: criss-crossing Canada to win sympathy from the public and refugee status from the government.
Anderson and Hart spoke at Concordia University last night in an event to raise awareness and support for themselves and other deserters seeking asylum.
"I'm not against war; I'm against this war," Hart said yesterday, prior to the screening of two documentary films about deserters and the war in Iraq: Let Them Stay: Voices of U.S. War Resisters in Canada, and Occupation: Dreamland.
"This (Iraq) war is illegal, and an act of aggression," said Hart, 32.
The event was co-sponsored by Cinema Politica, a political film series at Concordia, and by the War Resisters Support Campaign, a coalition of Canadian labour, religious and peace groups, Vietnam War resisters and other supporters.
About 20 declared U.S. deserters have come to Canada in the last couple of years, and most have applied for refugee status, event organizers said.
Hart, formerly a sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division, arrived in Canada last August. He had served almost 10 years in active duty with the U.S. military, including one year with Operation Provide Hope (later called Provide Promise) in the former Yugoslavia.
"We were dropping medical supplies, food and clothing," he said. "We were the good guys."
Faced with a deployment to Iraq, Hart fled to Toronto, where he was joined by his wife, Jill, and their infant son, Rian. The Harts are awaiting a hearing with the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Anderson, an armoured vehicle specialist awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, fled to Canada last January rather than accept a second deployment to Iraq.
"We were killing families of innocent people," said Anderson, 23, who has also applied for refugee status. "It's my basic human right not to kill innocent people."
The Immigration and Refugee Board last year rejected a request for asylum by Jeremy Hinzman, one of the first of the new wave of U.S. deserters seeking refugee status. Hinzman said he feared persecution in the U.S. because he was a conscientious objector, and opposed to the war in Iraq.
But board commissioner Brian Goodman said the Hinzmans "are not persons in need of protection, in that their removal to the U.S. would not subject them personally to a risk to their lives or to a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, and in that there are no substantial grounds to believe that their removal to the United States will subject them personally to a danger of torture."
Hinzman is to appeal the decision next month in Federal Court.
For information on the resisters support campaign, www.resisters.ca
The Immigration and Refugee Board decision on Jeremy Hinzman is available at www.irb-cisr.gc.ca